Ministers say child refugee scheme they are closing early ‘incentivises’ children to become refugees

Amber Rudd said saving the children would be a ‘pull factor’

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The Government has defended its early closure of the child refugees scheme, arguing that the programme could “incentivise” children to travel to Europe. 

Last year ministers said they would accept 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees but in a statement, snuck out during the Brexit debate yesterday, the Home Office announced it would be taking just 350. 

In an urgent question in Parliament this morning Labour’s refugee taskforce spokesperson, Yvette Cooper, branded the measure “shameful” but ministers defended the move.

“The Government has always been clear that we do not want to incentivise perilous journeys to Europe particularly by the most vulnerable children,” Amber Rudd said.

“The section 67 obligation was accepted on the measure that it would not act as a pull factor to Europe. The Government has a clear strategy and we believe this is the right approach.”

Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 includes a demand for the Government to make arrangements to relocate and support a “specified number” of unaccompanied child refugees from Europe to the UK.

Ms Rudd said she was “proud” of the Government’s policy on the issue. Later, when told children were returning to the camps in Calais, which were cleared last year, she said: “Perhaps it is because they think they could continue to go to the UK. Does it help them? It does not. What would help those children is if they could have their claims processed in France.”

Ms Rudd insisted that the scheme was “not closing” but merely that it would not take in as many children as had been suggested in Parliamentary debates.

The Government conceded the child refugee scheme last year after a campaign by Lord Dubs, a former Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis in the 1930s as part of the Kindertransport scheme.

However the Government attracted bad publicity for the scheme after a media campaign against the children by right-wing tabloid newspapers at the end of last year. The newspapers claimed that some of the refugees in the scheme did not look young enough to be eligible for it.

Ms Cooper said: “Once those 350 children are here, that’s it, it is closed. Where does it say in the Hansard debate that I have here from our debates in the Dubs amendment that we will only help lone child refugees for less than six months. Where does it say that instead of the 3,000 that Parliament debated we will only help a tenth of that number? 

“Where does it say that when we get the chance we will somehow turn our backs once again. It doesn’t because we didn’t say that at the time. The Home Secretary knows what she is doing is shameful.”

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said: “The worst thing about this Government’s failure to step up to the totality of the refugee crisis is the children. 

“How does she live with herself leaving thousands of people, members opposite can jeer, leaving thousands of children, subject to disease, people trafficking, squalor and hopelessness?”

Charities hit out at the Government’s claims about the scheme. Steve Symonds, director of Amnesty International UK's refugee and migrant rights programme, said: “The Home Secretary has this horribly wrong. By restricting its commitment to providing a safe route out of deprived, demeaning and dangerous situations elsewhere, the Government will only exacerbate the risk that these children fall victim to traffickers and other abusers.”

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